The Rise of Small Tax Havens
Despite international efforts to clamp down on offshore tax havens, small offshore havens for tax dodging and money laundering are becoming even busier.
As the international community focuses on well-known havens like Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands, small remote outposts have become more popular, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a global network of investigative journalists.
Euan Grant, a money laundering expert, calls them “new havens.”
“We’re talking of Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and, increasingly, Mauritius and the Seychelles,” Grant says.
The consortium examines one of those tax havens, Seychelles, a small island in the Indian Ocean.
Dozens of outfits there set up shell companies with intricate ownership structures so complex the paper trail is practically impossible to trace.
In addition to serving super wealthy tax dodgers, the island caters to a wide range of criminals and shady characters.
By some estimates, perhaps up to $32 trillion is hidden in offshore tax havens around the world, the consortium reports. That’s about equal to the U.S., Chinese and Japanese economies combined.
In an Al Jazeera television program, two undercover journalists asked Zen Offshore in Seychelles for help, saying they represented a “liaison officer between the Zimbabwean government and the rich diamond mines.”
“Yep, we don’t want to know that,” the Zen Offshore representative answered. “If we have knowledge of that, we have to put it forward. So I haven’t heard a word you said in the last couple of minutes.”
He said he could hide the person’s identity by putting “a company inside a company inside a company.”
People using the island’s services include a Kazakhstan banking tycoon accused of stealing billions from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, a subsidiary of Reserve Bank of Australia that admitted it funneled millions in Nigerian bribe funds through the island, and entrepreneurs in Israel who operated an illegal Internet pharmacy.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development gave Seychelles a “non-compliant rating,” saying companies there may not be honestly documenting ownership structures.
Seychelles officials protested the rating, saying they are cooperating with the OECD.
Steve Fanny, then head of Seychelles’ International Business Authority, tells business publication The Report Company that the country follows international laws.
“The whole issue with the OECD is unfair on small nations because the Europeans keep shifting the goalposts to meet their own needs,” he says.
The island does help clients navigate the international tax system, he adds.
“Paying less tax as long as it is within the parameter of the law is legal. It is not even your patriotic duty to pay a cent more.”